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Water-Related News

Breathe easy despite red tide with HABscope

From Betty Staugler, Charlotte County Sea Grant Agent

With red tide giving us a much-needed reprieve in Southwest Florida, it’s a good time to think about the future. Red tides have occurred in Florida in 57 of the last 66 years, so we should expect future events. But red tide shouldn’t mean we have to avoid all of the things we enjoy doing on the Florida coast.

A new tool has been developed to forecast red tide-related respiratory conditions, and it’s being expanded to as many beaches as possible — actually, the goal is every beach, every day. This decision tool will allow beachgoers to determine where and when conditions are likely to be most favorable for visiting beaches during a red tide event.

Why is this needed? Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tides, produces a toxin called brevetoxin. Brevetoxins may be released into the air when wind and wave actions cause the algal cells to break open.

Healthy individuals may experience some irritation on exposure, but these symptoms typically subside once they leave the impacted area. Aerosolized brevetoxins can, however, result in more severe and prolonged breathing problems for individuals with respiratory diseases, such as COPD or asthma.

Aerosol impacts vary widely from one beach to another and over the course of a day. This is due to the interaction of prevailing winds with tides and currents, which tends to bring blooms onshore in localized patches. Consequently, beaches just a mile or two apart may experience very different toxic aerosol levels.

The best protection from K. brevis toxic aerosol exposure is improved information in the form of easily accessible daily, beach-specific respiratory forecasts. This is why HABscope ( was developed.

HABscope uses trained citizen sc